(Ideologies of effectiveness and possibility in the language of qualifications for the POTUS)
In the contest between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders for the Democratic nomination, questions have been raised about what qualifies one to be president and who has those qualifications. Sanders made the mistake of using the term “qualified” in answering Clinton and Clinton’s campaign suggesting that Sanders didn’t have the mettle to be POTUS, in this tit for tat political jabbing. Although, when Sanders remarks are taken in context and in full, it is clear he wasn’t meaning that Hillary Clinton didn’t have the expertise or ability to be president but that in his and the opinion of his supporters her positions and actions disqualified her. In the uproar Sanders backed down. Though, Hillary Clinton using the Sander’s interview by the New York Daily News (NY Daily News), has continued to suggest that Bernie Sanders isn’t prepared and qualified to take the office of the Presidency of the U.S.
This debate over being qualified for being president isn’t based on neutral criteria but is based on differing interpretations of the role and meaning of the office of POTUS, and in beliefs about what is real or possible. The interview with the New York Daily News reveals their own dogma and ideology of what the presidency is, what a president is, and what is politically possible (according to this Guardian opinion piece by Geroge Manbiot, this ideology is neoliberalism) The dogma and ideology is subtle because it is embedded in a larger world view of what is real or realistic. A conflict arises between the New York Daily News and Sanders because Sanders apparently doesn’t share these dogmas and ideologies presented as simply the way things are.
This clash of ideology and dogma hidden behind the veil of supposed “reality” is shown from the first in their questions about corporate America. The NY Daily news legitimately asks Sanders to clarify and be nuanced about some of his rhetoric that conflates Wall Street and corporate America. Sanders won’t get specific and doesn’t see the distinction the interviewer is making. So, they ask directly about Apple. In bringing up Apple the interviewer describes Apple as a corporation that now employs 115,000 people, suggesting such a large employer is doing good by U.S. economy. Sanders doesn’t attack Apple but does get specific, Apple should do some manufacturing in the U.S.. However, Sanders’ target are corporations that benefited from workers and consumers in the U.S. and then chose to close down the manufacturing plants in the U.S. opening them in places where the workers are paid almost nothing.
At this moment the interviewer reveals the dogma as reality, as Sanders is asked if he can understand that corporations may feel the need to manufacture outside the United States to stay competitive. The ideological divide between interviewer and Sanders becomes apparent: Sanders rejects the narrative that these things just happen by some force of nature that no one could control. Sanders says “They created the rules” that made it competitively disadvantageous for corporations to keep manufacturing in the U.S. A means of doing this was through trade agreements and actively seeking to destroy trade unions. Sanders gives the example of Scott Walker’s Wisconsin as an example of the deliberate endgame and effort to destroy unions. For the New York Daily News, nobody is to blame for the fact that corporations take manufacturing overseas to countries where they can manufacture products for far less than in the U.S.. Corporations make decisions for their competitive survival. Sanders sees it differently. Through various policies, especially trade agreements, corporate America (through influencing policy and the trade agreements) made it necessary to move manufacturing out of the U.S. For Sanders the reality was created by will and policy, as such that reality can be unmade and a new reality can emerge.
Then the interviewer hones into the banking and Wall Street, and Sanders insistence that “too big to fail” is “too big to exist” and that he as president would break up the banks. The interviewer wants to know how that would happen. Sanders appears to be puzzled by the question, the breaking up of larger corporations for the public well-being clearly is something the U.S. Government has the authority and ability to do and it has been doing so since Teddy Roosevelt, whom Sanders invokes at this point in the interview, but the interviewer fails to see that as an answer to their question. New York Daily News wants Sanders to tell us how he’s going to do it, as if his plan to break up the big banks is something unprecedented, Sanders rather asserts that the power is there and the precedent of the administrations of Teddy Roosevelt is offered as an historical example. He also believes Dodd-Frank gives said authority to the U.S. Government. The interviewer questions this, but doesn’t give a reason why Dodd-Frank wouldn’t be enough.
Here, as Sanders sees it, he doesn’t need policy specifics because he’s simply going to use tools that a law and historical precedent have already shown that the Presidency has the power and authority to break up large corporations for the public good. In this instance the interviewer is viewing banks and Wall Street as a sui genres for which there’s no precedent of the U.S. Government intervening in this radical way, for Sanders everything is in place and the tools are at hand: they just need a President and Congress and Government willing to use them. Sanders doesn’t think that the U.S. Government needs to dictate to the corporations how they fulfill the restructuring from the breakup of the large corporation, he’s willing to entrust that to the corporations themselves. So, that the New York Daily News insists that he should have some plan and idea for how the big banks will actually do the restructuring is nonsensical to Sanders.
For the Interviewer, breaking up the banks is to work against the world as it is. Corporations just get big, so Sanders suggestion must have some plan some alternate ontic reality. Some catastrophe seems to be in view if the U.S. Government would just start breaking up large corporations. Sanders gently reminds the interviewer by a subtle reference to Teddy Roosevelt that he’s not inventing anything with his call to break up the large banks. For Sanders there is no “reality” he is working against, except the reality of a government unwilling to act in ways it is already empowered to do.
Similarly, when the New York Daily News asks about Israel; they take Sanders assertion, that Israel should stop with all settlements and pull out all settlements as not a good enough answer or policy: Sanders must have a plan for Israel to implement said course of action that Sanders says he’d insist on with the Israeli government. Sanders insist that the how is for the Israeli government to figure out not for the president of the United States. Though it is clear to me that Sanders isn’t following the standard script and so the Daily News is asking for another one. Sanders refuses. Sanders has a straightforward approach the Palestinian/Israeli conflict which assumes an aspect of the status quo, that of a two state solution. Sanders straight forward (to some possibly simplistic) approach is to name the ways in which each side has engaged in belligerent and illegal behavior and to insist on the end of that, and from there then negotiate. Sanders doesn’t see himself or the presidency as in the role of dictating outcomes in the conflict between Palestinians and Israel. Rather he will point out in negotiations the actions that violate International law and that of warfare and seek to hold the belligerents to the law, insist on the cessation of those activities for there to be negotiations. As such, according to Sanders POTUS doesn’t dictate to but influences other sovereign powers.
At a key point Bernie Sanders seeks to poke a hole in the NY Daily News’ sense of what is possible and real and realistic by bring up the achievement of a State legislature and Governor raising minimum wage to $15.00. Bernie Sanders points out that just 2 years or so ago, they would have considered such a proposal impossible. Daily News refuses to concede that point, yet I know few if any media outlets who considered $15 minimum wage as realistic. Even I, who participated in the early organizing around $15 minimum wage, didn’t think a $15 an-hour minimum wage was going to happen, but thought it would at least get the minimum wage higher. And I know that the movement was presented and seen as quixotic. Sanders point that organizing works even beyond the very local scale, to the scale of the state, and that this therefore can also work at the Federal level which the Daily News finds unbelievable.The trajectory of most of the interviewer’s questions assume that a President must come in ready to dictate explicit and detailed plans. That running this nation depends upon wonkiness. To be qualified to be President one must have detailed plans and the power and force to implement those plans. But those plans must coincide with the current dogma about what is realistic and achievable. Sanders sees the presidency differently. The office has certain constraints and tools at its disposal. The president’s power and authority comes from the nature of the office but also from the people, not from his ability to have plans, or the degree of his wonkiness. The president and U.S. Government should encourage certain directions, but doesn’t need to dictate every aspect of how that direction will be implemented by other actors, and he certainly doesn’t think that the President of the U.S. should dictate the details for other sovereign powers to achieve certain desirable ends. For Sanders there are three reasons things are possible for a President, the will and the participation of the people in the political process at all levels of government and politics, the nature of the office of the President, and the willingness to try things to create reality. For Sanders when it comes to government, economics and politics the only reality is the one we create and or accept, in either case what is real is what we will, what we create, thus a great deal is possible and there is no “reality” we must simply accept.